Authoritarian Hungarian Prime Minister Meets With US Christian Right Leaders

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at CPAC in Dallas, Aug. 4, 2022. LM Otero/AP Photo

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was in Washington DC on Thursday. But the controversial autocrat wasn’t making an official state visit. Indeed, President Joe Biden had intentionally declined to extend a White House invitation to a man who has pursued a vision of “illiberal democracy” and cracked down on press freedom since taking power in 2010. Instead, Orbán was in town to participate in a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation, a Christian conservative think-tank.
The authoritarian leader was introduced by failed GOP presidential candidate and aspiring authoritarian Vivek Ramaswamy, who has become a regular at the Hungarian embassy in DC over the past year. Orbán posted a slick video of his Washington visit on social media, including a clip of Heritage president Kevin Roberts gushing that Orbán has “a lot of fans here in the United States. You have a lot of people who are intrigued by policies you enacted.” 

The greatest fight in international politics is between the globalists and those who believe in national sovereignty. I was happy to see at the @Heritage Foundation that we sovereignists have many friends in the US as well.
— Orbán Viktor (@PM_ViktorOrban) March 8, 2024

According to information distributed by the prime minister’s press office to Hungarian media after the panel discussion, “The participants said the world needed a new movement to fight for justice, tradition, families and ordinary people. At the event held behind closed doors, PM Orbán was asked about the successes of Hungary’s conservative family and economic policies, the war in Ukraine, US-Hungary relations, President Donald Trump, and his personal political beliefs.”
One thing the Heritage Foundation panel didn’t seem to discuss, which might have been relevant at this particular moment, was Orbán’s extensive support for in vitro fertilization (IVF). As Republicans in the US have been working to make the popular fertility treatment illegal, the Hungarian government has encouraged the procedure as a way of trying to reverse declining birth rates among white citizens.
As Abby Vesoulis explained in Mother Jones last year, “The Hungarian government has taken over IVF clinics and subsidized the treatment cost down to $0 from $20,000-plus.” Of course, it’s not available to lesbians, writes Vesoulis. The policy is designed to produce “not just Hungarian nationals, but children from married, heterosexual, middle-income and up Hungarian nationals with stay-at-home moms.”
The Heritage Foundation has opposed IVF treatment and cheered the Alabama Supreme Court decision in February that shut down IVF clinics in the state by declaring that embryos created through the procedure are “children.”
Emma Waters, a senior research associate at Heritage, wrote a Newsweek column after the decision declaring, “Embryonic children in Alabama will now be treated with the level of love and care that any parent would want for their child. As Justice Mitchell’s majority opinion makes clear, there exists no ‘unwritten exception’ in the law that takes away the legal status of ‘unborn children who are not physically located ‘in utero’…at the time they are killed.’”
After the Heritage Foundation event, Orbán stopped in at the Hungarian embassy in DC to meet with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist and host of the War Room podcast. And on Friday, he headed to Mar-a-Lago to hobnob with Trump at his Florida resort. The pair of aspiring strongmen reportedly discussed “strong and secure borders” and then Trump treated the autocrat to a concert by a tribute band that played cover songs by Earth, Wind and Fire.

“There’s nobody that’s better, smarter or a better leader than Viktor Orbán. He’s fantastic,” Trump told the concert audience. “He’s a noncontroversial figure because he said, ‘This is the way it’s gonna be,’ and that’s the end of it. He’s the boss.”
At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania, Biden condemned the meeting, saying that Orbán “stated flatly he doesn’t think democracy works and is looking for dictatorship.” He added: “I see a future where we defend democracy, not diminish it.”
Correction March 9: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of Orban’s appearance at the Heritage Foundation in DC.